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My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?
President Barack Obama praying at a White House Easter event in April.
May 3rd, 2012
09:51 AM ET

My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Dear Deity,

In the Milky Way, on planet Earth, in the United States of America, Thursday is our National Day of Prayer, so I am writing to ask You how to pray.

Seventy eight percent or so of U.S. citizens are Christians, so should we pray today to the Christian God? This seems to be the conviction of the folks at the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which pops up first if you Google “National Day of Prayer.” (By the way, do You Google, God? And if so do you ever Google "God"?)

The NDP Task Force refers to itself as “Judeo-Christian,” but it sure looks evangelical to me. It has been chaired since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder (and evangelical stalwart) James Dobson. Its site quotes liberally from the New Testament, and one of its goals is to “foster unity within the Christian Church.”

A NDP Task Force press release begins: “Americans to Unite and Pray on Thursday, May 3rd, for the 61st Annual Observance of the National Day of Prayer." But will their sort of prayer really unite our nation?

Twenty four percent of Americans are Catholics, and God knows they don’t pray the way evangelicals do. Nearly 2% are Mormons and another 2% are Jews. And neither of those groups talks to You with the easy familiarity of born-again Christians.

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And what about American Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists?  Muslims agree with their Jewish and Christian neighbors that there is one God. But how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?

As You obviously know, the 1.6% of Americans who call themselves atheists and the 2.4% who call themselves agnostics refer to today as the National Day of Reason. On their web site, they argue that our National Day of Prayer represents an unwanted and unconstitutional intrusion of religion into the workings of the U.S. government.

In his various proclamations of the National Day of Prayer, including this year's, President Obama has referred to prayer as an important part of U.S. history. He speaks of the Continental Congress and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. being driven to their knees by the force of the tasks set before them.

But when our national icons have prayed on our behalf, they have done so in generic terms. Washington addressed “the Almighty”; Jefferson called on “that Infinite Power.” They did so because they wanted prayer to unite us, not to divide us, and they knew from the start that different Americans call You by different names.

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But addressing “Providence” in vague pieties will not satisfy everyone either. The evangelicals at the NPD Task Force reject efforts to “homogenize” America’s many different ways of praying into one common prayer.

I see their point. Like language, religion is a specific sort of thing. If you are going to speak, you need to choose a language. If you are going to pray, you need to choose a religion (and a god). So if they want to pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, more power to them.

But what happens when that particular prayer language is put forth as our collective national language? What happens when we pray, as Rick Warren did at President Obama’s inaugural, “in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus”? Then prayer turns into a wedge, dividing those who call you Christ from those who call You Krishna (or do not call on You at all).

So I return to my original question: How should we pray on this National Day of Prayer?

But while I have Your attention (do I?) I have one more.

This year the NDP Task Force has chosen for its theme “One Nation Under God” and its Bible quote is: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 33:12). Is our god You? Since 1954 we have bragged in our Pledge of Allegiance that we are "one nation under God." Are we?

All too often, it seems to me, we use You rather than following You. Democrats ask You to shill for them on tax policy and immigration. Republicans claim to speak in Your name on abortion and gay marriage. Does this annoy You — playing the pawn in our political chess games? Don't You sometimes just want to smite us?

Finally, before I let you go, I must ask You about the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. Perhaps You have more important things on your plate, but while I have Your attention (do I?) I must ask: What portion of their income should millionaires pay to the U.S. government? When President Kennedy came into office the highest income tax rate was 91%. Was that too high? Today it is 35%. Is that too low? (Just curious.)

This prayer is already too long, so I should stop. But if You are still there (are You?) maybe you could just tell me whether You follow the Roman Catholic Church. If so, could you comment on the recent fight the Vatican has been picking with American nuns? Do you think our nuns should be spending more time fighting contraception and less time caring for the poor and the sick?

And do get back to me on that how to pray thing. We’re all supposed to do it on Thursday, together.

Sincerely,

Steve

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Politics • Prayer • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (4,673 Responses)
  1. Jessica James

    It's real easy. Ya just say Dear God and then speak your heart. Just because you call your diety something different, it doesn't mean a thing. A day of prayer is just that, a day to pray to whomever you want. Isn't that one of the things this country was built on, freedom of choice, freedom of religion.. Isn't that was our creator, what ever name he goes by, gave us when he gave us free will! Choice, it's all about the choice.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      You are free to pray whenever and however you'd like – but when the government endorses it to promote evangelical Christianity it is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause, and the opposite of what we were founded on.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • skyrim

      not all choices are correct choices

      May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  2. Nick

    the old testament god is one of vengeance and wrath. the new testament god one of love. that was we americans can worry too much about what other faiths feel about this being a christian country. america and its religions are respected in the world. the debate is here among us not outside. these countries may have different faiths but they respect america as having a strong faith, and christianity imo is more negatively viewed here in the us than by any other country; we are our own worst critic. im happy being christian. i dont much care for evangelical christianity because I disagree with it and the direction it wants to take, but I respect it and all other faiths in their pursuit of higher ideals by which we should all endeavor to live by – and as for atheists well thats fine too. they Im sure will have some moral code – formal or internal – to live well with fellow human beings and so it doesnt matter because then theyre following jesus' primary tenet which was only to love one another.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • ryan

      Absolutley incorrect God in the Old and NEw Test is the same, the new introduces a mediator Jesus so we can have arelationship with GOd

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      I'm thinking you need to go do some research on the history of Christianity. . .I am sure once you do that for a while you will not think of it as "the religion of love". Do yourself and humanity a huge favor and educate yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • kc

      Did you forget about 9/11? Yes America is respected in many parts of the world but there are just as many people who actually hate America and their imperialistic ways.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  3. Joe or Providence

    If god were real we'd all know it.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • RP

      We do know it.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  4. johnfrichardson

    The only god that could possibly exist is some sort of deistic creator god, and I'm quite sure such a god doesn't listen to prayers and couldn't care less what a bunch of bugs like us are praying for. More likely yet, there is no god at all. Either way, prayer is babble.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • todd in DC

      Prayer is more than just babble. It is a means for the unscrupulous to squeeze money from the gullible.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  5. TheMovieFan

    For too many, their god is really their money & their party...Christ is just a means to an end for them.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  6. ryan

    If everyone was Christian, which by the way, we are ALL supose to be, this would not be a problem

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Chad

      What about zeus, ra, thor or any of the other human created gods. Wake up. Gods are simplistic was for humans to explain natural phenomenon. The fact that religion is still around is embarrassing to the human race.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Roger

      Oh religion, causing the most pointless of debates. Want to pray, then pray. If you don't, then don't. Do we need a discussion on the matter? And we should be Christians? Get over yourself... or God. whatever is easier.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • honeypot

      Obama is not a religious man, what religious man would spray our skies full of chemicals that make us sick and kill our environment and us?!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • kc

      Really? Was there a law passed requiring me to be Christian? Please do not quote the Bible because as a non Christian/believe I don't believe a word of it. However, I would like to read/see the US law that requires me to do so.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  7. IN GOD WE TRUST !!!!!

    Few 100% true Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:

    † Atheism is a religion that makes you angry, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet Atheists)
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Hitler (Denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
    **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

    † † Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †

    PS! the USA is a Christian nation and will always be.
    http://rightremedy.org/tracts/7

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Wholly Mary

      OH PUH-LEEZE! Get off the soapbox, again.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • MV

      Like the ancient religious texts you read, you are simply making things up. You have zero evidence to support the assertion, for example, that atheists commit more crime. The worst thing about religion is that it teaches its followers to pretend to know the unknowable and to be certain.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • dantealexander

      The US has never been a christian nation, do some research on the beliefs of the founding fathers

      May 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      Looks like the spam my crazy aunt keeps sending me.

      /delete

      May 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Carrie

      WOW..you need help. I am tired of people telling others that they have to believe with what others do. I am NOT an Atheist, but I also don't expect others to believe in what I do. I think everyone has a right to believe in what they want to. Someone that scornes anothers religion is as good as a racist in my book. Do you all really think that God or Jesus wanted us to treat each other this way? You that judge are horrible and need to get over yourselves. I believe we should all come together...that is what I want to believe in!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • BobR

      How about 1 quote from your own book.

      "Judge not lest ye be judged".

      May 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • What!

      Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • ShawnDH

      PS. People who blindly believe ancient Middle Eastern fairy tales are embarrassing themselves.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Libs Are A Disease

      Simple, we pray to the only God that actually exists, the God of Abraham who came down to Earth as a humble carpenter and cleansed our sins with His Holy Blood. Atheists can go screw themselves. They don't believe in anything and in their jealousy of the faithful they attack or first amendment right to assemble and pray to the One True Living God.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • ShawnDH

      The United States is a secular democratic Republic and always will be. Your fantasies about a "Christian nation" are entirely based on nothing but your own ignorance about your own country.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Patrish

      Gee do atheist scare you so much that you have to go on and on? No wonder I'm so anti religion. I'd rather think for myself then slop up junk like you're posting.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • nonPCrealist

      /SlowDramaticApplause

      Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Leo

      It's so called "Christian" people like you that single out other groups of different belief structures and denominations that makes me reconsider my view on religion.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • ggargoyle

      This one's definitely among the 52.387%!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • todd in DC

      WHAT!! Love you. bear my children, please.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • ShawnDH

      Dear Libs Are A Disease:

      YOUR blind belief in ancient Middle Eastern fairy tales proves nothing. What are you talking about? You are making a fool of yourself. But nobody is taking away your right to pray to a magical and imaginary being in the sky. By the way, your post isn't very Christian and Jesus was a liberal. Why do you hate Jesus?

      May 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • kc

      LMAO. That is some funny stuff. Thanks for making my point about Christians. Some of the most intolerant people on Earth.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • brucerip

      Wait, are YOU the guy who made that website about REAL ninjas?

      realultimatepower dot net

      May 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  8. EJ

    There is a really simply solution to this "problem:" You pray to whomever is your God. If you don't believe in God, you simply do not participate in National Prayer Day.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Bleah

      fuuck off and die you piece of filth! This day of prayer crap is ILLEGAL!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • EJ

      Bleah: What exactly is your problem? If you don't believe in it, no one is forcing you to participate. Drama queen.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • dewed

      EJ, great point, but your logic can't be used to drive a divisive wedge, so it's useless in today's political dialogue.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • EJ

      dewed: Thankfully, I am not trying to divide or create a wedge. Just stating the obvious I guess 🙂

      May 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • todd in DC

      Sigh, you really don't get it, do you EJ? Religion is fine if it is optional. But people are forced to obey religious based laws. Think there aren't any? Any law that discriminates against gays, that prevents women from having abortions, that prohibits gays from getting married, are all based on Christian beliefs – not scientific, not reasoning, just christian religious beliefs.

      And a lot of us are sick of that.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • EJ

      Todd: Actually, I do get it. There are plenty of laws that go completely against Christian (and possibly other) beliefs as well. Just because you think something is "neutral," doesn't make it so. I completely against abortion, yet I live in a country where it is legal to kill an unborn baby. I am as offended by that concept as you are about laws against gay marriage (which I personally could care less about). This country certainly does not cater to religious beliefs, given that you can't even say the word "pray" in a public school anymore, and we have a president who is pushing for everyone to pay for contraceptives.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  9. madlogic

    I totally agree with cnnstooge.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  10. across12

    I'm not praying with you suckers. Who said we think alike?

    May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  11. Satan

    My hope is that you stop praying all together!!!! I want you to take God out of everything....My hope is that you will kill each other....Loose your way....Put greed,corruption, sinfulness and above all, self above all else...That you will worship all that is evil and wring every last drop of God out of your hearts....I want you to put money, forget family, think and do immoral thoughts, and stop helping your fellow man,, exploit them, spit on them use them until every last one of you is wretched and crawling in the dirt cursing God.....Pleas help me....your friend Satan....

    May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • across12

      You are just an helpless idi0t, don't worry too much for your glucose goes high.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Hi Satan! I'm so sorry, but mythical creatures such as you and others found in the "bible" have no say so. Now go f*** yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Patty

      Hi Satan. Sorry you're reduced to the CNN sound off board to get your message out. Ya might wanna sign up for a Twitter account.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • PercievedReality

      Across, you are correct, Satan is a helplass idiot, and probably your leader.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Sasha

      I think you need meds.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Christians are hypocrites

      Dear Satan,
      Thank for the go ahead. All I needed was your blessing.
      See you at church.
      Love your follower
      Christian's

      May 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  12. Jesus

    Your prayers are answered in the order received, and you're the 915,137,295,563,124th in line. Thank you for your patience, and please enjoy the music while you wait.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  13. yuri pelham

    On national prayer day I listen to platters "My Prayer". Then I pray that pedophile priest will "Stop in the Name of Love"

    May 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  14. DeeCee1000

    Look up Pastor Sean Harris. Destroy religion now.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Dave

    Incredibly banal. From Washington through Monroe and beyond, every President (up to modern times) has opined that America is NOT and should never be known as a "Christian nation" . Considering the pagan nature of Christianity, I have to agree.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Timetowinialwayswin

      I can see where i can agree with you on that, minus the exaggerations. A nation based on Biblical teachings would be more accurate. It is those Biblical teachings after all, that the Roman Church killed Christians for being in posession of while they tried to enstate paganism rituals directly contradicting them, such as Sunday sabbath and Solstice birthday, both of which directly contradict Biblical teachings.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  16. PercievedReality

    Athiests are so intelligent and display such reason, they see only what is front of thier face. They all KNOW God exists, but they lie to themselves while they commit sin, then they say Christians are delluded.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Really? The reason most atheists DON'T believe in the bible is because they've actually read it. . .as opposed to most "Christians" who follow like ignorant little blind idiots.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Chris

      That's hilarious! I am an atheist and one can sin only if one believes in sin. I do not. I am still a good person. I don't need a list of do's and don'ts from a non-existent being to be a good person. I know a lot of "christians" that are just awful human beings.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Chris

      If God does not exist then everything is permitted, and many people live that way.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • No Religion Thank You

      Dear "God": Please save me from your followers.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Some Atheist

      Incorrect. The premise of God is so self evidently foolish, that it takes utter stupidity or a willful lapse of critical thinking to accept. If you think I'm pretending, let me demonstrate:

      Dear God,
      I pray that me, my wife, and my child become terminally ill and suffer a slow agonizing death.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • smokey

      Oh, man. Ask yourself where we would be if we were still treating mental illness with exorcism. Or cancer or leprosy not as illnesses, but as a scourge of God. What exactly has the Bible been good for, except to divide and fill people's heads with bronze age myths that have no place in a society that strives to be enlightened.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • PercievedReality

      Some Athiest-You know what is self evidently foolish? thinking the universe came from nothing for no particular reason
      Enjoy thinking you are plant food

      Smokey- Yea our modern medicine is so effective it has most people stupid enough to try it addicted, judging by the amount of Xanax, Soma and Oxicontin being sold in the US the disorders you mention must be a pandemic–try again

      May 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • todd in DC

      SOme Atheist, just let your family watch reality TV. That should do it.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  17. John

    I'm surprised Obama is not killing a sheep to please Allah...

    May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Carrie

      You have issues for sure!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Will

      Thats Judaism you ignorant ****

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • EJ in Metro Houston

      now WHY would he do that? In case you have been living under a rock for years and years Christians stopped animal sacrifice after the Old Testament.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • across12

      He might have killed his dog instead, not sure though.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Corkey

      As long as he eats it afterwards.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  18. Justanothernutcase

    There is nothing supernatural, only natural objects and forces.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • ryan

      Laughable define forces then pal

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  19. edpeters101

    If "praying" is the way to solve our problems, why do we elect people to make decisions for us? Why bother working? Just kneel down to pray and say "I did my part!".. If it indeed makes you feel better than by all means pray, but don't expect anything in return...

    May 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • skyrim

      you dont expect therefore you do not have. Chew on that reason and logic.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Patrish

      Ohhh said so well!!

      May 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  20. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Science builds modern jet aircraft.
    Religion flies them into buildings.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Reason

      No people fly them into buildings.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • gilamosnter

      Science builds nuclear weapons.
      Religion prevents men from using them.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • More like

      Defective people fly them into buildings.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "Science builds nuclear weapons.
      Religion prevents men from using them."

      LOL nope! Reason prevents men from using them, not religion.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.